Case Study: Analyzing Author Craft and Purpose in Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass | EL Education Curriculum

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ELA 2012 G7:M3:U2

Case Study: Analyzing Author Craft and Purpose in Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

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In this unit, students closely read three extended excerpts from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. They continue with the same routine that was introduced in Unit 1; it is designed to allow all students to understand this complex text. For each excerpt, the teacher reads the text out loud while students read silently. Next, students do a second read to make sure they understand specific words and literal meaning, then a third read in which they grapple with questions that require more synthesis and analysis, focusing particularly on how Douglass uses language and on those parts of the text that relate most directly to his purpose in writing. Finally, students meet in groups of three to complete an Excerpt Analysis note-catcher, which includes the narrative arc of the excerpt as well as the ways in which this excerpt conveys Douglass's position. In their analysis of the Narrative, students build on the work from Unit 1 about how authors use word choice and figurative language to convey meaning, and they help construct a word wall that showcases some of Douglass's powerful language. In their work with author's purpose, the focus of the textual analysis essay, students continue to refer to the Shining a Light anchor chart from Unit 1. The work with narrative arc is new in this unit; it is launched with the reading of Frederick Douglass: The Last Day of Slavery[1] at the beginning of the unit. It is not an assessed skill; rather, it supports students in understanding the events of the Narrative and serves as a scaffold for the performance task in Unit 3--a children's book based on one of the excerpts.

This unit also includes work in which students compare a written story to how a storyteller might perform that same story (included in the Mid-Unit 2 Assessment) and in understanding how sentences are constructed (L.7.1a, b, c; assessed in Unit 3). The Mid-Unit 2 Assessment focuses on students' ability to independently analyze a new excerpt of the Narrative, with a particular focus on understanding the words and language used and how they contribute to meaning. The end of unit assessment is an on-demand extended essay about how Douglass conveys his purpose and distinguishes his position from that of those who defend slavery. This essay is similar to the essays in earlier modules, with several days devoted to rereading, analyzing textual evidence, and planning the essay. However, unlike the essays in earlier modules, this essay is not revised: Students use their notes and outlines to write a single draft over two days in class. Note that it is strongly recommended that you do both the Mid-Unit 2 Assessment and the End of Unit 2 Assessment (the essay) yourself near the beginning of this unit. This unit requires precise and rigorous analysis of a complex text. This is work that students are capable of, but many of them will need carefully calibrated support. The more detailed your understanding of the assessments, the better positioned you will be to support your students in the type of thinking they will be doing throughout the lessons.

[1] This children's book is integral to one lesson in this unit, and is widely available in public and school libraries. However, a free alternative children's book, Turning the Page-Frederick Douglass Learns to Read, and a corresponding alternate lesson are now available within Lesson 1 and as a separate file, to accommodate schools/districts that are not able to secure a copy of Frederick Douglass: The Last Day of Slavery. 

Big Ideas & Guiding Questions

  • What gives stories and poems their enduring power?
  • How did Douglass's purpose and audience shape how he told his story?
  • Stories and poems have enduring power because they tell about important or interesting events, people, and places; they have themes that help readers understand the world and often empower people; and they use powerful language and powerful images.
  • Douglass wrote the Narrative to convince his audience that slavery should be abolished. He responded to the reasons that some people gave to justify slavery, and showed why they were mistaken.

Content Connections

This module is designed to address English Language Arts standards as students read literature and informational text about slavery, abolition, and Douglass. However, the module intentionally incorporates Social Studies Practices and Themes to support potential interdisciplinary connections to this compelling content.

These intentional connections are described below.

Big ideas and guiding questions are informed by the New York State Common Core K-8 Social Studies Framework:

Social Studies Practices, Gathering, Using, and Interpreting Evidence, Grades 5-8

  • Identify, describe, and evaluate evidence about events from diverse sources (including written documents, works of art, photographs, charts and graphs, artifacts, oral traditions, and other  primary and secondary sources) 
  • Analyze evidence in terms of content, authorship, point of view, purpose, and format; identify bias; explain the role of bias and audience in presenting arguments or evidence
  • Describe and analyze arguments of others 

Social Studies Key Ideas and Conceptual Understandings, Grade 7

  • 7.7b Enslaved African Americans resisted slavery in various ways. The abolitionist movement also worked to raise awareness and generate resistance to the institution of slavery.


Each unit is made up of a sequence of between 5-20 lessons. The “unit at a glance” chart in the curriculum map breaks down each unit into its lessons, to show how the curriculum is organized in terms of standards address, supporting targets, ongoing assessment, and protocols. It also indicates which lessons include the mid-unit and end-of-unit assessments.

Texts and Resources to Buy

Texts that need to be procured. Please download the Trade Book List for procurement guidance.

Text or Resource Quantity ISBNs
The People Could Fly: The Picture Book
by Virginia Hamilton
Teacher copy only
ISBN: 978-0553507805, 055350780X
Frederick Douglass: The Last Day of Slavery
by William Miller
Teacher copy only
ISBN: 978-1880000427, 1880000423
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
by Frederick Douglass


ELA 2012 G7:M3:U2:L17

Optional: Community, Experts, Fieldwork, Service, and Extensions


  • Consider taking students to a museum exhibit about this time in history. The better they understand the context of Douglass, the richer their reading of his Narrative will be.
  • Consider taking students to see a play or other spoken performance. Ask them to consider what made that story powerful.

Optional: Extensions

  • Consider having students explore narratives from other former slaves. In the 1930s, the Federal Writers Project sent interviewers to collect the stories of many former slaves. These stories can be accessed through the Library of Congress at Students can hear audio files, read transcripts, and look at pictures.
  • Consider having students explore the autobiographies of other public figures, either current or historical. Ask students to consider the purpose of the author: What is he or she trying to accomplish by sharing the story?

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